Thursday, August 26, 2010

Irresistable hype

If you follow these things at all, you know that Jonathan Franzen is really starting to piss people off. (You may recall earlier in the decade when he expressed his discomfort at "The Corrections" being chosen for Oprah's Book Club -- at that time the broad road to riches -- because, in effect, too many of the wrong people would be reading the book for the wrong reasons.)

His new book, "Freedom", comes out next Tuesday and is widely seen as the rightful successor to "The Great Gatsby" or even "War and Peace". He made the cover of Time. Jody Picoult -- hugely popular and critically disdained writer of 'state of the nation' novels -- has called bullshit, playing the sex, race, and genre card. Others have followed. All necessary links are here, if you're interested, including some cogent thoughts from Laura Lippmann -- who amusingly compares her coverage in the NYT to that of "Mr. Lippmann" (David Simon, of The Wire), noting that her marriage to him was noted and his to her was not.....

I am desperately trying to resist (I thought The Corrections was OK.), but really: In the Guardian earlier this week was the following. If somebody liked the book THAT much, could it possibly not be worth a try?

Franzen's daring has been to take on soap operas and HBO mini-series, demonstrating that if you want modern emotional dramas, the novel can provide them today as effectively as it did in the 19th century. But, he also offers something no HBO series can – the solitude and moral introspection of the novel, the beauty of prose, the imaginative love affair you form with characters you alone see in the way you see them. Freedom is the novel of the year, and the century.


Steve Axelrod said...

Hmmm ... no comment on Freedom, as we hoi polloi haven't been allowed to buy a copy yet. But I thought "The Corrections" was brilliant ... corrosively so: I said to myself ..."this guy has now written everything you ever wanted to write, but much better than you ever could. How about a career in automobile mechanics or TV repair?"

As to Oprah, I kind of loathe her, I have to admit -- for choosing cheesy books, or giving cars away or caring more about the faucets than the criminal records of the teachers at her African girls' school ... or maybe just for being on the cover of her annoying magazine EVERY MONTH, or maybe just for having a magazine named after herself in the first place. Anyway ... I sided with Franzen on that one. He didn't think The Corrections was an Oprah book and he was right. What really pissed her off was that he didn't want her Oprah's Book Club sticker on his book. Ok fine whatever-- instead of engaging him in some kind of meaningful conversation, or defending her book club, she treated herself to a grotesque hissy-fit, dis-invited him and told her viewers not to read the book. She acted like a spoiled petulant child and I was surprised to see so many people take her side.
I've been waiting for his next big novel ever since that dust-up and I can't wait to read it.

As for Jody Picault ... to paraphrase the great Pauline Kael, his novels make hers look like something you hold out on a tooth pick. It's not because he's a man or a white man, Jodi. Go sentence by sentence, compare yours to his. You'll get the idea.

Tulkinghorn said...

Clearly this should be fun.

As card-carrying members of the twenty-first century we should be able to judge whether Franzen gets it right in the details (the Zola level) as well as the broader human/historical/metaphorical material (the Tolstoy level).

The WSJ critic maintains that the broader structure of the novel (the reason why it's called "Freedom" rather than, say, "The Berglunds") is an offensive, anti-human, cynical, mess.

Which, from what I can remember from personal essays of Franzen's, might not be far from his personal sensibility.

Tulkinghorn said...

If you can't wait, The New Yorker website is making chapters available here:

and here:

Generic said...

This notion of an "imaginative love affair you form with characters you alone see in the way you see them" certainly has a bearing on some recent discussions here. I'm betting Nabokov would sneer.

Tulkinghorn said...

What I wonder is if there was some guy who said in 1910 that "Howards End" was the novel of the century --or that "Psmith in the City" would never be surpassed.

Many surprises to come...